Rhik Sa­mad­der tests take­away

Pizza comes into its own when it ar­rives ready-made at your door. But our take­out taste test re­veals abun­dant ways for the big cheeses of the con­ve­nience pizza cir­cuit to sink or swim (in grease). Yes, ‘in­tegrity of slice’ is a thing ...

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rhik Sa­mad­der Rhik Sa­mad­der is an ac­tor and a writer for the Guardian; @what­samad­der

The night be­gins by fall­ing apart. To­gether with some friends, I’ve ar­ranged a pizza-tast­ing com­pe­ti­tion/ house­warm­ing for my friend Alex, who’s moved into a brand new flat in Brix­ton. How­ever, the door buzzer doesn’t work and the in­ter­net hasn’t been in­stalled, so I’m or­der­ing piz­zas through glitchy phone apps, which in­sist I choose an ad­dress from a menu of post­code-based op­tions, none of which are where we are. “The build­ing isn’t on the land reg­istry yet, so it doesn’t ex­ist,” ad­mits Alex.

Alice runs out of the house to look for pizza, de­feat­ing the point of a de­liv­ery night, but also sav­ing the day. I start mak­ing calls, debit card in hand. In con­tention tonight are the ubiq­ui­tous Domi­nos, up­starts Firezza, small-scale chain Pizza GoGo, and Pizza King. Alice re­turns with boxes from col­lec­tion-only favourites Franco Manca, and a lo­cal spot called Pizza Box, which she de­scribes as “a strip-lit night­mare”. We’re in busi­ness.

Pizza King and Pizza GoGo ar­rive first, shortly fol­lowed by Domi­nos and Firezza. Domi­nos Pep­per­oni Pas­sion is an im­me­di­ate draw, de­scribed as “ex­actly what you want in a take­away” – huge, thick with top­ping, and that par­tic­u­lar crust, crispy then pil­lowy. Pizza GoGo’s “Al­li­ga­tor Pizza” on the other hand, is fas­ci­nat­ing for all the wrong rea­sons. “It looks like a Lego pizza,” says Peter. The curled ham discs and acres of crust at­tract no one. The Veg Spe­cial from Pizza Box is gen­er­ously topped, if heavy on the sweet­corn and onion, over­pow­er­ing the other flavours. Opin­ion sharply di­vides on Pizza King’s meat­ball and jalapeno ef­fort, ul­tra spicy with balls of what looks like ke­bab meat sit­ting on it. They’re too oily for some; but Jess de­tects “hints of Chi­nese five spice”, and the slices go down un­de­ni­ably fast.

Time for a bit of posh. Franco Manca’s wood-fired, slow-risen sour­dough base is a touch­stone for pizza con­nois­seurs, while Firezza’s un­usual top­pings and rec­tan­gu­lar half me­tre piz­zas are renowned for qual­ity. In­deed, their white pizza with mixed wild mush­rooms, truf­fle cream and tar­ragon is ex­pen­sive but ex­quis­ite, and the only en­try that com­pletely dis­ap­pears. It’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion to a Domi­nos. “Firezza when you’re sober, Pizza Box when you’re drunk, Domi­nos when you’re hun­gover,” Alex the­o­rises, eat­ing on the floor be­cause there’s no fur­ni­ture.

In the up­set of the night, Franco Manca dis­ap­points. It ar­rives cold, the pizza is un­seg­mented, and the Glouces­ter ham and Buf­falo ri­cotta top­pings slide around when we at­tempt to tear it. That leop­ard print charred, tangy crust is usu­ally joy­ful; eaten cold, it loses a lot of its magic. A bit­ter de­bate springs up. Alice mounts a strong de­fence – it’s not a shar­ing meal, and meant to be eaten im­me­di­ately with oils and vine­gars at the restau­rant ta­ble. Plus she had to col­lect, so she’s sort of the de­liv­ery guy on this one. A com­pro­mise is reached – we select some piz­zas, to see which takes re­heat­ing best.

Mean­while, we agree on judg­ing cri­te­ria for the piz­zas. Crust, top­ping, and the ra­tio be­tween the two. Cathy stri­dently nom­i­nates greasi­ness as a cat­e­gory, as well as top­ping dis­tri­bu­tion and slice seg­men­ta­tion. She didn’t come here to play.

Pizza King and Pizza Box find them­selves matched across most cat­e­gories in the mid­dle of the ta­ble – the Veg Spe­cial let down by an un­der­cooked base, while the Pizza King suf­fers in­tegrity-of-slice is­sues. “We’ve a slight snow­ball-meat­ball ef­fect,” says Jess, as ke­bab-y orbs roll on to her designer dress.

There are dis­agree­ments. Firezza scores highly for greasi­ness, but “it’s the good greasi­ness, like truf­fle oil”. Top­pings and seg­men­ta­tion can­not be treated as evenly weighted cat­e­gories. A sweet, bready crust is nice for peo­ple who like bread, anath­ema to oth­ers. Pizza Box is praised for be­ing “dirty, but hon­est about it.”

The Domi­nos is a unique case: its herb dip, ad­dic­tive crust and “creep­ily

uni­form dis­tri­bu­tion” are uni­ver­sally se­duc­tive, yet not trusted. There are in­tegrity is­sues, in ev­ery sense. The slices rip half­way, the cheese some­how stronger than the base. This doesn’t dent its pop­u­lar­ity any more than the dis­cus­sion of how Domi­nos stocks out­per­form Google, or its founders have staunch Republican val­ues. Alice notes that the se­molina dust­ing lends an ap­peal­ing ex­tra tex­ture. “It’s there to mop up grease,” says Cathy sadly, reach­ing for another slice.

At the other end of the pop­u­lar­ity scale is Pizza GoGo, and it’s time some­one tried it. De­scribed as medium but al­ready very small, the pizza shrinks fur­ther on re­heat­ing, like a jumper in a hot wash, and at £13, feels rather steep.

Alex jumps in, and re­coils from the plas­tic cheese. It stinks, he says. “It looked old when it turned up,” agrees Alice. It scores a zero for top­ping, 2 for crust.

Franco Manca re­claims some lost sup­port in the re­heat, but not enough to catch up to Firezza and Domi­nos. Cathy pro­poses a new cat­e­gory: re­gret. A num­ber ap­prox­i­mat­ing any guilt felt af­ter eat­ing, de­ducted from each over­all score. Domi­nos takes a big hit: fin­ish­ing on 32.5 points, ced­ing the crown to Firezza’s 35. Pizza King and Pizza Box fin­ish on 20 and 21 points re­spec­tively, while Pizza GoGo’s full house of re­gret wipes out the 10 points it had built up, fin­ish­ing with a net score of zero. The nearly guilt-free Franco Manca ends on 25.5 which ev­ery­one agrees is too low, be­cause it re­ally is good pizza.

The con­test is over. Be­fore us, the dis­carded re­mains are buried in card­board graves. Greasy fin­gers splay on the floor as we lie back, sated, dis­cussing what a mir­a­cle moz­zarella can be. We’ve slightly ru­ined Alex’s new house, but it doesn’t re­ally ex­ist any­way, so that’s fine. Viva pizza!

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